For most employees, performance measurement is viewed, at best, as a “necessary evil.”  Instead of helping employees evaluate their performance against targets and improve, most employees view measurement at work as a means through which management watch, time and appraise them.

It only takes a single snakebite to make someone afraid of snakes for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, many people have been bitten more than once by measurement at work.

For measurement to deliver the hoped-for results and improvements, management should create an environment and provide structures that facilitate conversations around the topic. The performance environment has a greater influence on how employees perceive and respond emotionally to measurement.

If the environment does not empower or involve employees in measurement conversations and only measures people against goals imposed upon them, the result will be employee frustration and this negative use of measurement will deeply be engrained in the organization’s culture.

Instead of being instrumental to the success of the organization, negative measurement becomes the keys to its downfall.

In order to reduce employee frustration and drive performance improvements, managers must first identify the causes of these employee frustrations, evaluate the causes, monitor the causes, apply remedies and continuously improve.

The following are five reasons that explain why most organizational performance measurement goes bad.

  1. Purpose of measurement: How performance measurement is used in the organization will determine employee reaction to it. Measurement at work should provide managers with high-quality information to assist in learning and improvement. Contrary, if measurement is used to justify, judge, control or reward and people are made accountable for hitting or missing targets, this creates less focus on learning and improving but more compliance because of the command-and-control orientation. When rewards and threats of punishment are added to the measurement system and are too great, people will tend to do what it takes to obtain the reward or to avoid the punishment even if it means applying poor judgement and risk management.
  2. Lack of empowerment: When employees are not empowered to succeed, perceive measurement as non-productive and are less confident about the importance of measurement because measurement data is not relevant, understood and timely; they become discourage and will not seek any opportunities to keep score. They will very likely feel quite negative about measurement. Contrary, empowering employees in different change situations will make them feel positive about measurement
  3. Lack of trust: Trust is essential for performance measurement to succeed. If leaders are trustworthy about measurement and not manipulating metrics, then employees will trust measurement. In order to win people’s trust, leaders should avoid using measurement against them. When people lack trust and do not respect measures, they will not be afraid to manipulate measures. It is important to note measurement doesn’t have to be perfect to be trusted. There must be honesty and integrity.
  4. Lack of accountability: This is also called “negative accountability” and arises when measurement is used to force performance and punish non-performance. When employees are not prepared, lack support from senior management, organizational structures and systems or view measurement as threatening, they become naturally afraid to accept measurement accountability.
  5. Resistance to measurement: People will resist if they feel that measurement will be used against them to find fault or blame them. Too often measurement is used to determine who went wrong, rather than what went wrong; to find fault rather than to provide useful feedback or trigger positive improvements. This leads to employees feeling judged and humiliated hence their dislike for performance measurement.

In addition to the above, people resist measurement because they perceive it as too difficult, time-consuming and tedious and as someone else’s job. Lack of data understanding, lack of resources, bad experiences, lack of data accuracy and lack of senior leadership involvement also lead to measurement resistance.

Concluding Thoughts: Most people think that, without measurement, there is no failure. Actually, the opposite holds true. Lack of good measurement approach, systems and structures will definitely lead to bad measurement. In order to have positive attitudes towards measurement, the context must be right. People should feel that measurement is not being used against them, but rather, to learn and improve.

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